Putin’s war will be worse

Vladimir Putin began to understand the great difficulty of the war he leisurely waged in Ukraine. Now, he knows that his corrupt and time-serving generals have lied to him about the effectiveness of the military machine they’ve built. He knows that the flattering “experts” who have reinforced his stereotypes about the weakness of Ukrainian national identity are talking hats off. He knew that even the courage of the Germans had a limit and that the Americans still knew how to fight the cold wars. Now, he has no illusions about the power of Western economic sanctions, and he knows that families across Russia will soon mourn their sons as the death toll rises in Ukraine.

He was certainly demoralized by the barrage of bad news but showed determination to fight. This does not surprise us. Putin also knows that his future in power, freedom and possibly even his life depends on the outcome of this war.

And there’s something else he knows, or thinks he knows, that many people in the West discount. Westerners and especially Americans believe that in the end freedom always wins. That implies that Mr. Putin will fail in Ukraine and that Putinism will ultimately fail in Russia because that is how history works.

However, from where Mr. Putin sits in the Kremlin, history seems to teach a different lesson. The empire of the czars was not built on freedom, just as freedom is fruitless when it falls. The Soviet Union rising from the ruins of Romanov power was not based on the idea of ​​human freedom. Stalin was not brought down by freedom-hungry Russians; he died in bed. The weak libertarians who tried to introduce Western-style democracy into post-Soviet Russia were soon sidelined in the power struggles of the Yeltsin era. Mr. Putin simply does not think that “freedom always wins” and the likely response to the failure of his initial strategy to lure Ukraine into his territory would be to double down on repression.

We should not underestimate the power of belief in the effectiveness of the iron fist. He has seen it in action in Tibet, Xinjiang and most recently Hong Kong. Putin knows how bad and effective the process of restoring President Bashar al-Assad’s rule over most of Syria is. He noted that Nicolás Maduro still rules Venezuela, that the Castroite state stands by its stance on Cuba and North Korea that has defied US sanctions for decades. He recalled last year’s democratic rise in Belarus, and how easily Alexander Lukashenko crushed it. Mr. Putin is unlikely to give up his ambitions in Ukraine, which has far less power than in Moscow, without allowing repression every chance of success.

We should not fool ourselves about how far Putin can go. Since the outbreak of war, he has been repressive in Russia – shutting down the last remnants of a free press, arresting critics and tightening laws against protests and dissent. But the Soviet era saw far more totalitarian control and far greater terror than anything that exists in Russia today.

Will Putin rebuild the Gulag Islands and recreate the horrors through which Stalin ruled Ukraine? If the alternative is to flee Moscow in disgrace and get through the rest of his life as a state pensioner in China, he will almost certainly head in that direction. Mr. Putin consolidated his power by deploying merciless violence against civilians in Grozny to thwart Chechen efforts for independence. Why would he cede power without using every available method to hold on?

The question is whether he can succeed. On the one hand, Putin’s state and today’s Russian bureaucracy lack ideological commitment and civil war experience that makes Stalin’s Communist Party an effective instrument of mass repression and terror. Today’s security service, the FSB, is less powerful than the KGB, much less powerful than the NKVD of the Stalin era. There is also the question of how ready Putin’s allies are to go with him.

However, the technologies deployed across China under Xi Jinping make social repression and control easier than ever. In any case, it will be easier to build an effective police state than to build a modern military, and the men who supported Putin’s entry into Ukraine will likely continue to support him as he continues to do so. deeper into the Russian past.

Putin’s political career represents three unwavering commitments: to his personal power, to Russia’s expansion, and to the primacy of authoritarian society over the liberal West. Unfortunately for the people of Russia and Ukraine, these principles will likely shape his decisions in the days and weeks ahead.

In 2013, it took three months for one million refugees to leave Syria. In 10 days, nearly 1.5 million refugees have left Ukraine, and the United Nations estimates the number could be as high as 4 million. Image: AFP / Getty Images Synthesis: Mark Kelly

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/putins-war-will-get-uglier-ukraine-russia-war-stalin-czars-history-empire-soviet-union-11646688611 Putin’s war will be worse

Ethan Gach

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